I love writing short stories.
With a short story, I not only get to practice my writing and editing skills, I get to practice them on a project I know will get done, which is a huge relief when I'm three notebooks deep into plotting a novel project that seems to be going nowhere.
But there are challenges to working on short stories. Challenges unique to the medium that writers don't find in larger writing projects.
And while I'm certain I still have a lot to learn about this particular medium, I do want to share the one thing I've managed to figure out on the topic.
THE CHALLENGE OF WRITING SHORT STORIES
The thing I have found to be the most challenging about short stories can be summed up in three words.
Word. Count. Limits.
A short story technically includes any work of fiction that is between one thousand and ten thousand words long. However, plenty of contests and magazines prefer stories in the five to fifteen hundred word range.
And when I first started out I thought a lower word count would make the stories all the easier to write.
Boy, was I wrong.
Instead, time and time again I found myself bumping up against the word count limit with the end of my stories completely unfinished.
What was I doing wrong?
I'd look and see so many other writers creating these amazing short stories and wonder where mine were falling short.
Of course, I realized there was a skill level gap between those other authors and I. But what was the skill I was missing?
After a dizzying amount of introspection, I realized that the problem was with my topics.
THE KEY: KEEP IT SIMPLE
It wasn't necessarily the topic of the stories themselves.
You can write about anything after all.
The problem was I was trying to focus on something, or in most cases several somethings, that were too large to cover in just a few hundred words.
In my short story Pumpkins and Princes, I write about a dancer whose entire show is about to be ruined by an overly dramatic male lead. Another male lead steps in, at the last minute, to dance the part. The MC obviously can't just agree to dance a show with a random guy pulled off the street, and so challenges him to dance the hardest scene with her, right then and there.
Sounds straightforward right?
However, as I was writing my feedback partners worried that the other members of the cast weren't playing important enough roles. So, I tried to add a little more color to them. This, of course, took me over the word limit, so I cut them out altogether. But they already had a job to do, leaving a gap...
Do you see the problem?
There was just too much going on.
True, I ended up fitting the story into the word count in a way I was happy with, but it was a very watered down version of what I had originally envisioned.
And that's because what I originally envisioned was a complex plot filled with complex individuals that all needed screen time.
With short stories, we just don't have time for that.
The lower the word count the smaller we have to focus.
With novels and novellas, we can take our time to slowly introduce world building facts, character motivations, and even take detours into backstory and flashbacks.
With short stories, we're working with a snapshot, an image or two, and explaining that image to our readers. We have time for one or two characters, in one or two scenes, trying to accomplish one or two things, and that's usually the best we can hope for.
In flash fiction, we can fit even less.
Yes, our characters are awesome and yes, the rest of the idea we have for that character is just as awesome, but the more we try to focus on the higher the word count. It's just inevitable.
So, to avoid that, we have to focus on one, maybe two different aspects, dictated by the number of words we have to work with. It'll be a bit tricky to figure out at first, but well worth the effort in the end.
Are you a fan of writing short stories? What's the one thing you've struggled with the most on this topic?
As always I'd love to hear your thoughts in the comments.